Many conversations in Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee meeting on the reauthorization of the Higher Ed Act focused on dual or concurrent enrollment. Concurrent enrollment was also in the news in the past few years when The Higher Learning Commission clarified that instructors of dual-credit courses (within the HLC’s region) are required to have at least a master’s degree in their teaching area, or at least 18 graduate level credit hours within the related specialty.

After covering this hearing and discussing this news story, WCET Frontiers determined that we should explore current trends in concurrent enrollment and report to our subscribers. Today, we’ll review what concurrent enrollment is, the benefits and pros of such program, and who is “doing’ concurrent enrollment in the United States. Next time we’ll look at some best practices in concurrent enrollment and current or future trends in this area.

Thank you to the experts who assisted me with developing these posts. They are cited in the content below.

What is Dual or Concurrent Enrollment?

Concurrent and dual enrollment partnerships provide high school students the opportunity to take college credit-bearing courses. The National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships (NACEP) defines concurrent enrollment as the subset of dual enrollment courses taught by college-approved high school teachers (NACEP, 2018). I was thrilled to be able to chat with Adam Lowe, the Executive Director of NACEP about many of the topics in today’s blog. A highschool hallway lined with lockers.

The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) defines “dual enrollment” as “an organized system with special guidelines that allows high school students to take college-level courses. The guidelines might have to do with entrance or eligibility requirements, funding, limits on course-taking, and so on. This includes early and middle college high schools as well as other types of dual enrollment programs” (Marken, Gray, and Lewis, 2013).

Sometimes called “dual credit,” “dual enrollment,” “college in the high school,” or “early college,” concurrent enrollment differs from other models of dual enrollment because high school instructors teach the college courses (NACEP, 2018).

For ease of reading this post, I will refer to the courses in general as “dual enrollment,” unless I specifically understood that the courses being discussed were taught by high school instructors (which would be referred to as “concurrent enrollment”).


Cynthia Grua, from the Office of the Commissioner for Higher Education for the Utah System of Higher Education, spoke with me about Utah’s Concurrent Enrollment programs, which were first started in the late 1980s. Utah’s programs are focused on general education coursework and saving money for students. Current Utah dual enrollment courses cost each student $5.00 per credit (so $15 for a three-credit class). Utah college courses cost between $450 and $1600 for the same courses on a college campus. The courses are subsidized with funding from state government and support from colleges, school districts, and charter schools. This means that students who took Utah Concurrent Enrollment courses saved $34.9 million in tuition last year (Step Up Utah, 2018).

Recent studies have shown that concurrent and dual enrollment programs have positive effects on college degree attainment, credit accumulation, high school achievement, overall academic achievement, and college readiness (IES, 2017). Further research into the effect on certain populations of students has shown smaller effect sizes for low-income students and students of color, when compared with other student groups (Taylor, 2015).

Who’s doing it?

In the 2010-2011 school year, more than 1.4 million high school students took courses offered by a college or university for credit through dual enrollment. The courses are growing. From 2002 to 2010, dual enrollment had an annual growth rate of more than 7% (I would assume this has continued or increased since then) (Marken, et. al, 2013).

The NACEP says that from 2010-2011, 1.4 million high school students took more than 2 million college courses from postsecondary institutions. Since the last NCES report on this information, more than 3,000 high schools have partnered with higher education institutions to offer these types of courses (NACEP, 2018).

Three students working on assignments together. One is looking at a tablet device. In the 2010-11 school year (the last year NCES reported on dual or concurrent enrollment), 53% of participating U.S. institutions reported high school students took courses for college credit (46% through dual enrollment, 28% outside of dual enrollment programming). At that time, most courses were taught by both a high school and college instructor (45%), while 34% were taught by high school instructors only, and 21% were taught by college instructors. Most take college courses at their own high school, though this varies between programs, schools, and states (NACEP, 2018). Cynthia advised that in Utah, having the classes at the high schools solves scheduling problems created by public school bell schedules. In rural Utah, generally, students must give up two class periods if they were going to take a course delivered at a college campus.


I have found several benefits or pros for these types of courses:

  • Lowers costs for students (Meador, 2017).
  • Enables students to complete college credits early (Meador, 2017).
  • Increases student understanding of the rigor of college level coursework (Meador, 2017).
  • Increases access to quality coursework (CDE, 2017).
  • Improves coordination between secondary and post-secondary educational institutions (CDE, 2017).
  • Provides students who may not have considered college as an option a glimpse of what a college course would be like.
  • Increases number of students who go on to attend college.

Possible Cons

My review has also found a few issues with these types of courses:

  • Recent research into dual enrollment has raised questions about why student success in college differs for dual enrollment students in some states versus others and why there are continued achievement gaps between students, especially between different income groups. Many recommend better alignment between dual enrollment and college degree requirements (Fink, Davis, & Yanagiura, 2017).
  • Course costs are different for each state. As a reminder, in Utah, a credit is $5.00 or $15.00 for a three-credit class. Some states offer these courses for free. Other states charge rates closer to college tuition. While is great that some states are supporting their students with cheaper college courses, in some cases, the lower cost is benefiting students that may not need financial assistance (such as students that were already going to go to college). How can we ensure that students who may not be college bound also benefit from these lower cost courses?
    • In Utah, 85% of students participating in concurrent enrollment courses are white.
    • 19% of low income students participate in some sort of concurrent enrollment course nationally, while 23% of higher income students participate.
    • Free and reduced lunch students who take at least one concurrent enrollment class are twice as likely to go to directly to college.
  • Pell Eligible
    • Should these courses be eligible for Pell assistance? What if the students use their Pell money on a high school course that ends up not being part of their college degree program? Perhaps this makes more sense for state supported dual enrollment type options that the students fund during school and use Pell when they are actually enrolled in higher education.
  • Dual Enrollment Transferability
    • As more and more schools increase the viability of dual enrollment courses, we need to ensure that these courses will benefit students once in college. Not only should these count toward their degree programs (as promised) but the credits should be transferable. Advising from high school counselors, admissions offices, or dual enrollment specific advisors is important so students understand what types of courses to take to ensure transferability. The NACEP is actively engaging with institutions and states to ensure quality of these courses. This will help ensure that academic standards are continuously met (which would help with transferability).
  • Quality of Courses
    • A teacher stands behind several students assisting them with a solution to a problem.How do we ensure the quality of dual enrollment courses? The HLC took a major stance in requiring certain credentials to teach the courses. Will this be enough? Does this requirement hamper schools who wish to offer the courses but do not have teachers who meet these requirements?

The Heart of the Issue

One of the main motivations for the state of Utah in their Concurrent Enrollment programs is increasing access to quality education for low-income, under-represented, or rural students. Especially students who would never have considered college as an option. My colleague, Sherri Artz Gilbert, attended an ITC Network session on dual enrollment. She reflected that when her niece and nephew talked about these classes, she didn’t really think about the implications of such courses. But, after the ITC session, she understood how life changing dual enrollment courses can be. Especially for low-income, rural students who would “never ever consider college an option before that opportunity.” The classes, set in their own high school and taught by supportive, quality teachers, not only provided a cost-effective course, a head start on college credits earned, but also showed them that they would be successful college students. And, by the way, Sherri’s niece is close to completing her college degree and her nephew starts college this fall.

As Cynthia told me at the end of our interview: these programs should focus on serving students. That’s the heart of the issue.

Next time in our blog series on dual enrollment we’ll explore some best practices, talk about how technology impacts these courses, ways these courses may be addressed in upcoming (someday) Higher Education Act legislation, and consider the future of dual enrollment.

Photo of Lindsey Downs
Lindsey Downs
Manager, Communications
WCET – WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies



“Concurrent Enrollment.” Accessed 2018. Colorado Department of Education. Retrieved from

“Concurrent Enrollment” (2018). Step Up Utah. Retrieved February 2018 from

NACEP, 2018. Fast Facts about Dual and Concurrent Enrollment. National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships. Retrieved February 2018 from

Fink, J., Jenkins, D., and Yanagiura, T. (September 2017). What Happens to Students Who Take Community College “Dual Enrollment” Courses in High School? Community College Research Center. Retrieved from

Institute of Education Sciences. (February 2017). What Works Clearinghouse Intervention Report, Dual Enrollment Programs. Retrieved from

Marken, S., Gray, L., and Lewis, L. (2013). Dual Enrollment Programs and Courses for High School Students at Postsecondary Institutions: 2010–11 (NCES 2013-  002). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved 2/26/18 from

Meador, Derrick. (2017, March 18). What is Concurrent Enrollment? Retrieved from

Taylor, Jason. (2015, July 17). Accelerating Pathways to College, the (In)Equitable Effects of Communication College Dual Credit. Community College Review. Col 43, Issue 4, pp. 355-379.

Purnell, R. (2014). A guide to launching and expanding dual enrollment programs for historically underserved students in California. Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges.


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